With time and space to pursue his own photographic projects during the 2020 / 2021 lockdowns, Frew began exploring and shaping Manu Koingo – Birds of Yearning, a concept that had been on his mind for many years – to create a series of works that speaks to and engages the interests of his youth while raising awareness of our fragile and diminishing forest life.
As a boy Frew kept a large aviary in his parents’ backyard. There, he cared for and observed the inhabiting birds while their characteristics, distinctive movements, and beauty were revealed, leaving an indelible impression on Frew’s curious young mind. The flint of another lasting passion was sparked during his youth as Frew spent time learning the art of creating fine furniture in wood under the tutelage of his cabinetmaker father.
Through his collection of photographic portraits in Manu Koingo – Birds of Yearning, Frew pays tribute to New Zealand’s extinct and endangered native wildlife, bringing together his in-depth knowledge of portraiture with a lifelong interest in birds, and fervour for creating objects with wood.
The formal, fine-art style of Frew’s large-scale portraits of birds, with their darkened Victorian backgrounds and heavy wooden frames, calls to mind the solemn dignity of 19th century portraiture, a symbol of status that the subject was beloved, important, or revered. By framing his subject in grand, bespoke frames, Frew further elevates the status of each bird to that of our ancestors. While reminiscent of a vanished era, the photographs offer a reminder to treasure and protect what remains in the present. This emphasis on elevation of status speaks to the sense of importance and urgency that Frew feels for the preservation of our native species of birds and forest life.
Frew was granted access to collections and specimens held within institutions such as Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, spending countless hours observing his subject from every angle, just as he did as a boy with the birds in his aviary. By capturing his still life avian subjects in ways that would have us believe they might suddenly stir and take flight or turn their head to meet our gaze, Frew has resurrected these dormant specimens. An evocative sense of each bird’s personality is revealed, offering an invitation to the viewer – in the tradition of viewing portraiture – to attribute and project character, temperament, memories, and history to each subject, to connect as we would with a portrait of someone known to us, a loved one, family member, or ancestor.
Frew designs the profile for each frame with careful and sensitive consideration to how a frame belongs and relates to each subject. Creating, shaping, joining, and painting the lengths of moulding by hand from reclaimed and salvaged native timber, he is connected to and honours the skills taught to him by his father, while elevating and bringing new life to cast-away remnants of our endangered timber.
Frew has been represented by Parnell Gallery since 2022, where they will be exhibiting Manu Koingo – Birds of Yearning in 2023.